Muhammad—The Praised One
Aside from positive or negative reports about Muhammad, written hundreds of years after his death (1), the image of Islam’s Prophet among Muslims originates from explicit Qur’anic proclamations, such as, blessed (33:56), mercy towards all creations (21:107), emancipator of humanity (7:157), etc. According to Ibn Durayd’s (837CE-933CE) Kitab al Ishtiqaq, Muhammad means one who is continuously praised. Muhammad’s other name Ahmed (61:6) means pretty much the same. And the Qur’an declares Muhammad to be raised to the station of praise and glory, that is, “Maqamam Mahmood” (17:79). Still Muhammad is human (17:94) of the noblest moral character (68:4).
The Qur’an specifically prohibts Muslims from making mockery of other religions’ personalities and practices. Therefore if a Muslim commits blasphemy against non-Muslim deities, personalities, or practices (6:108), or even fellow Muslims (49:11), specific Qur’anic verses could be invoked to stop him/her from doing so. These are universal and timeless Qur’anic ethical injunctions that are applicable in Saudi Arabia as they are in Indonesia. One may choose to ignore them, but that is his/her personal choice.
While the Qur’an approachs blasphemy from an ethically and philosophically mature standpoint, Muslims are dumbfounded by the never-ending juvenile jabs from certain quarters in the technologically and financially superior West. It seems that European academia and media continue to poke fun at Muhammad to flex their “intellectual” muscles. The most recent incident is that of 12 cartoons depicting Muhmamad as a terrorist. The cartoons were first published by Jyllands-Posten in Denmark and then by other media outlets across Europe.
It is unfortunate that, initially, not only Jyllands-Posten’s editor, Carsten Juste, but also the Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, refused to take the sensitivity of the situation seriously. Mr. Juste asserted, “we live in a democracy where satire and caricature are generally accepted and where religion should not pose any limits on this.” (2) And Prime Minister Rasmussen hid behind, “This is a matter of principle. I won’t meet with them [Muslim ambassadors] because it is so crystal clear what principles Danish democracy is built upon that there is no reason to do so,” said Rasmussen. (3)
Having briefly outlined Muslims’ image of Muhammad, Qur’anic prohibition of various kinds of blasphemy, and Danish newspaper and government’s subsequent hubris, I like to look at the issue from the Qur’anic vantage point. Verse 21:41 from chapter “The Prophets” says, “Mocked were apostles before thee; But their scoffers were hemmed in by the thing that they mocked.” So according to the Qur’an, prophets and mocking go hand in hand, and the Qur’an mentions a specific end-result for the mockers.
Also, in its characteristically mature style, the Qur’an instructs Muslims to “change the channel” when they walk upon senseless speech then disengage for a short period of time(6:68), and even wish peace and amicably disengage on a long-term basis (28:55).
So with specific Qur’an references, we have seen that on one hand the Qur’an anticipates mocking of Muhammad as Prophets before him were mocked, and on the other hand outlines holistic and pro-active controls at various levels of engagements from the Muslim side. If a Muslim or a group of Muslims react to provocations in an immature or unethical fashion, it is bacause he/she has decided to act in a non-Qur’anic manner.
That said, the Danish media and government cannot hide behind the Danish freedom of speech “laws”. Such freedom of speech laws protect fancies of the subjects of their respective political entities. These laws are not necessarily portable, acceptable or applicable to other political entities that seek their ethical guidance from fundamentally different sets of rules.
When someone chooses to blaspheme Muhammad, especially for pre-meditated reasons, it is not an internal issue of a political entity. It is an international issue. Playing innocent after adamantly publishing the cartoons doesn’t get anyone anywhere.
Mocking of Allah, Muhammad and the Qur’an does not “innocently” happen. Mocking the three is a stated and pro-active strategy of certain players who have access to the European and other Western media. Muslims can take “scoffers were hemmed in by the thing that they mocked” in verse 21:41 as a prophecy. They can also take it as a Qur’anic challenge in the light of verse 21:18 in the same chapter:
21:18 Nay, We hurl the Truth against falsehood, and it knocks out its brain, and behold, falsehood doth perish! Ah! woe be to you for the things ye ascribe.
Western provocations are opportunities in disguise to share Islamic teachings with fellow human beings—Western or otherwise. Shouting, burning, beating, killing, boycotting, etc., are not the most effective approaches to “hem” the mockers. The best jihad is through the Qur’an (25:52).
Liaquat Ali is the founder of The Qur’an Institute, Inc. Mr. Ali encourages readers to share Qur’anic Wisdom with him by bringing forth alternate/better understandings of the verses used in the article.
(1) Ibn Ishaq, Muhammad’s first biographer, was born in or around 704 CE. So it is safe to assume that he produced his work approximately 100 years after Muhammad’s death. Ibn Hisham edited Ibn Ishaq’s work approximately 100 years later. Ibn Ishaq’s biography is extinct and only lives through Ibn Hisham. Tabari was born in 839 CE.
So all the “incidents” people so “authoritatively” talk about had long been happened before anyone wrote them.
Comparative Translations of Cited Verses:
Visit Liaqat Ali’s website at http://www.quraninstitute.org/